No Keir, we don’t need a Victims’ Law

Great cartoon from the Guardian that accompanies the piece

Great cartoon from the Guardian that accompanies the piece

Introduction

On 3rd February 2014, Sir Keir Starmer announced that what the Criminal Justice System really needed was a Victims’ Law. Anyone who blogs can feel his frustration at not being listened to when we have the answers. If only he had been in a position to do something about this in the last five years or so, the world might be a different place eh?

But anyway, he points to the difficulties (that undoubtedly exist) in the prosecution of offences of personal or sexual violence and states that it is not a question of individual failing, but a systemic one. He’s right, but he’s giving the wrong answer.

What is a Victims’ Law? 

He is remarkably short on detail – “What is needed is a fundamental rethink, leading to a specific and legally enforceable Victims’ Law”. That’s it, no more details.

Keir rightly says that victims have a lot to gain from the ECHR, much more so in fact than defendants (he neglects to mention the unfortunate case of Waxman which confirms this). He distinguishes the Victims Code (we still haven’t had the response to the consultation, five months down the line, or any idea how it’s working) so it’s not that. Neither is it Victim Impact Personal Impact Statements (their efficacy as yet unproved) or specialist prosecutors (ditto).

So what does he actually want?

What he seems to be proposing, ultimately, is an inquisitorial rather than an adversarial system. That is not a new law but a complete overhaul of the way that Court proceedings have been conducted in this country for 400 years.

I am (perhaps surprisingly) not as wedded to the adversarial system as many are. I can see its faults as well as the advantages. But switching to an inquisitorial system is not a ‘Victims’ Law’, it is a completely different and much more fundamental debate. If you want to propose a switch to a European style justice system, be my guest, but good luck arguing that at the moment.

It also does involve the state doing some investigating which seems to have gone out of fashion at the moment.

What is wrong with his proposal?

Well, apart from it not being clear what he’s actually saying, there is a wider problem with the system here, and that is that it is fundamentally under-resourced. You can have all the policies in the world, as well as a shiny set of Procedure Rules, but if they’re not followed then where does it get you? Giving victim’s rights may or may not be a good idea, but a right is pretty useless if you can’t effectively enforce it.

I would hope in the high profile cases (such as the Yewtree ones) things are done properly. They most certainly aren’t in the majority of cases. I agree that this is not the fault of individuals, but basic maths. If you want to help victims, fund the CPS properly.

Have a case lawyer for each case. Listen to what victims want by way of support, rather than have a one size fits all policy. Make sure all directions of the Court are complied with so that no case is adjourned because of a failure to complete disclosure or serve evidence. Give each case a fixture, so a victim knows when they have to come to court. Don’t cut compensation for victims of crime. Don’t cut legal aid in family cases so victims of domestic violence (overwhelmingly female) with children get a proper service from ‘the system’. Keep all courtrooms open and make sure that there are enough jurors so cases get heard quickly. The list can go on and on.

All these things would help. All however take money, which is why they are not being done. Far easier to have a policy or protocol (or even a new law) which promises much, fails to deliver, and doesn’t cost much.

The truth is that many politicians (the ranks of which are probably shortly to be joined by Sir Keir) don’t care at all about victims, they just care about looking like they care about victims.

Conclusion

The Victims’ Code is a good example. As stated, we don’t know how it’s working (or not), but I get the impression from what I see in Court that it is having a very small impact. The process is complicated and has been introduced to comply with our obligations under EU Law. What advice and support does a victim get in helping challenge a decision? As far as I can see, none. To that extent, how useful is it? This appears to be a typical new initiative – all words and no actual action.

I would, however, wholeheartedly agree with Sir Keir’s statement that “can I advocate a pause in the oft-repeated mantra that we have the best criminal justice system in the world?”. This is not just the way that complainants are treated, but also witnesses,workers and, most importantly, defendants. We have a system that is falling apart and that is something that urgently needs addressing. Passing a Victims’ Law will do nothing to help that however.

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3 thoughts on “No Keir, we don’t need a Victims’ Law

  1. This chimes with a belief I have held for some time now. The European project that our political class is welded to cannot come to be unless we change our criminal justice system to mirror the European model. When one of the political in crowd like Kier Starmer starts dropping soft blandishments about a victims’ law he is simply beginning the flow of rhetoric that the rest of the political classes aretablet to present to us .
    Don’t think the decimation of the criminal bar is about money or just about money.. The adversarial system doesn’t work without us so what better way to do away with that system than to do away with us as a group. Think I’m nuts? We have already seen moves to do away with the jury .. That will come in time. It starts with the long complex cases and then gradually filters through to all cases. Then why would you need an adversarial system? Judges don’t act on the sorts of arguments juries do.. Think I’m a conspiracy theorist ? How long ago did they try softening us up for the single european currency? 40 years ago with the introduction of decimalisation ..an unnecessary and very costly scheme with no discernible benefit to anyone at the time but 40 years on its just a tiny step to the euro. That’s how far ahead this scheme is planned.. It may not happen any time soon.. But mark my words…the end of the adversarial system, the jury system and the criminal bar is coming Brussels will see to that ..and there will be nothing we can do about it.. But don’t let it go without a fight because it really is worth fighting for

  2. “The process is complicated and has been introduced to comply with our obligations under EU Law. What advice and support does a victim get in helping challenge a decision? As far as I can see, none. To that extent, how useful is it?”

    In a few words? Not very useful at all.

    The “new” code is very similar to the original Code (which we all know was pretty useless) and the avenue for redress where the code is ignored by those who should be “guided” by it remain exactly the same. Lengthy, complex ordeals that are difficult for those who support victims to navigate, never mind expecting an often traumatised victim to work through it alone. This is something every support organisation I heard during consultation meeting after consultation meeting raise as a concern and request be changed.

    It is worth pointing out the “New Code” also excludes (fails to even mention) a huge proportion of UK crime victims. Support organisations expects legislation will do the same.

  3. What about the ‘victims’ who are victims of False Allegations made by many of these other ‘victims’ who aren’t ‘victims’ at all, just gold-diggers, narcissists, mentally/emotionally disturbed humans, or those simply hellbent on revenge, fuelled by deep resentment?

    As to NOT stopping £compensation, I totally disagree. If ALL £compensation were removed from crimes of sexual abuse, the number of allegations would fall hugely. All they need is to transfer the £compensation into helping true victims get support which will help to bring healing.

    They did this in Germany recently. Allegations fell by 80%…

    Voila!

    We are in a really bad state in the UK with many totally innocent men now being sent to prison (Rolf Harris amongst them, in my view) because Keir Starmer et al, helped, in my opinion, by Feminists and Anti-Rape charities have now designed an insane system where ALL women are to be believe and ALL men regarded as guilty unless they can prove their innocence.

    How though, can men prove their innocence when women now don’t even have to have a date, not even a specific year, or time of year….

    In Rolf’s case, one complainant sold her story one year PRE-trial, one had her entire story changed MID-trial, one had NO evidence to show Rolf was ever at Leigh Park, even the police themselves admitting in Court that they’d found NOTHING to prove he was there..and one was a jealous ex-lover (lover?) (who had just 8 meetings with Rolf over 11 years)

    Even DS Gary Pankhurst of Operation Yewtree told me he felt bad that Rolf had been sent to prison.

    BAD????? So he damn well should! For HE and his Motley Crew helped to send him there, or rather, the CPS did, for they are the ones who make these crass decisions….

    Over 60% of the CPS are now women…

    As a woman myself, I now rest my case, m’lud, for Feminism is Waging War on men and it shames me, as a woman.

    Get REAL, people, for INNOCENT old men will soon by DYING In prison too…

    WHAT is going on in the country I so once loved with all my heart….a country where I now fear for my 20 years old, gentle, kind son’s safety too, for ALL it would ever take would be ONE woman, out for what she get, be it £money or revenge..and that would be his life in chaos for many years…..

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